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Philly Slammed by Soda Tax Suit

The city of Philadelphia, which in June passed a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages – the first such tax in a major U.S. city – has been hit by an expected lawsuit by the American Beverage Association (ABA), according to published sources.

Joined by some Philadelphia residents and small businesses, Washington, D.C.-based ABA asked a Pennsylvania judge to block the tax from taking effect in January. The organization's legal representatives argued that the tax violates state law, as well as the terms of a federal nutrition assistance program that sends funds to states.

“We are ready and prepared to vigorously defend this legislation and to protect the historic investment planned for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and education system,” City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante said in response to the Sept. 14 suit. “We have always been confident that the Sweetened Beverage Tax was a proper exercise of City Council’s authority and that it will be upheld in court.”

“While it is repugnant that the multibillion-dollar soda industry would try to take away these educational and community programs from the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who need them, we were not surprised by their lawsuit given the $10 million they have already spent opposing the tax,” added Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny. “I have no doubt we’ll be successful in defeating [the] lawsuit.”

In 2013, ABA successfully quashed New York City’s plan to keep large sugary drinks from being available at restaurants and other food venues. The association is currently engaged in a legal tussle with San Francisco, whose lawmakers want to mandate warning labels for such beverages on printed ads, posters and billboards.

At the time the Philadelphia tax passed, ABA said that it “unfairly singles out beverages – including low- and no-calorie choices. But most importantly, it is against the law. So we will side with the majority of the people of Philadelphia who oppose this tax and take legal action to stop it.”

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